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Eric Liddell, by Norman Cliff

 

 

June 9, 1991, Norman Cliff addressing the audience
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The Eric Liddell Monument.

By Norman Cliff

 

Charles Walker, an Engineer working in Hong Kong, was moved by the Liddell story (being a fellow Scot) and raised funds locally and in Scotland for a monument to be erected in his memory in Weihsien, and obtained permission for the project from the Chinese authorities.

In June 1991 David Michell and I travelled with a group of supporters from Hong Kong. The former camp is now divided into two sections. On the side of the hospital are houses occupied by medical staff and their offices. On the other side is a large Middle School.

When we got off at the former camp site there were lines of students in their uniforms to welcome us. We found that Block 23 had been demolished and another building of similar size had taken its place. We walked down the end of houses once used as the married quarters and still standing, and came to a site behind where the church used to be. We went through a moon gate into the Garden of Inspiration in which was the Liddell monument.

There we saw the magnificent seven-foot high rose granite memorial stone. It had come all the way from the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, a gift from Edinburgh University.

The authorities were determined that no religious element should enter the proceedings, but the words on the stone in English and Chinese said, "They shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint". This is a quotation from Isaiah chapter 40 verse 31!

David Michell and I addressed the crowds there - of teachers and students and foreign journalists from Beijing. I had been told not to preach Christianity, but having made a quotation from Confucius I felt free to quote the prayer of St. Francis - "Make me a channel of Your peace ..."

 

ERIC LIDDELL IN WEIHSIEN CAMP - 1943 - 1945

By Norman Cliff

 

1. His arrival in Weihsien Camp some five months before me.

 

         Following the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941, Britain and American were at war with Japan . The British community in Tianjin were then very much under the control of the Japanese military.

         During March, 1943, all enemy nationals in Tianjin were instructed by the Japanese to prepare for a journey to an internment camp in Weihsien (now known as Weifang), some four hundred miles away. They were to go in three groups on the 23rd, 28th and 30th March, 1943, and the luggage for each group was to be sent four days in advance. Eric Liddell of the London Missionary Society was appointed "captain" of the third group. The luggage to be sent for each person could include a bed, bedding and two boxes, and each traveller could take on the train two suitcases as hand luggage. The authorities omitted to mention the need to bring cooking utensils and tools.

         The Westerners arrived at the chosen meeting place at the Recreation Grounds in Tianjin . The weather was cold, and they were all wearing fur hats, thick overcoats and woollen scarves. To make sure that nothing was left behind because of weight they were pushing all kinds of contraptions - improvised wheelbarrows, prams and Chinese-style poles with buckets on each end.

         At 7.30 p.m. the Japanese inspected the luggage, and then the ragtag group moved slowly along the street with their awkward burdens to the beginning of the French Concession, then on to the Bund, and across the International Bridge to the railway station. During this mile-long walk the streets were lined with sympathetic and silent onlookers of many nationalities. Japanese camera men snapped pictures of the crocodile line for propaganda purposes in the home press.

         The Allied prisoners were crowded into third class carriages, and the train left at 11.40 p.m. There was nothing to eat or drink, and the adult passengers sat awake all night while the younger ones slept fitfully. After changing trains at Jinan , they arrived at Weihsien in the afternoon of the following day. Buses and trucks took them through the massive gates of the city, across three miles of countryside on a rough road, which led to the former American Presbyterian mission campus.

 

(Main source for the above - an account by C.H.B. Longman in Eric Liddell - Athlete and Missionary D.P. Thomson)

 

2. My memories of Eric Liddell from Aug.1943 to May 1945.

 

         In August 1943 the Chefoo group arrived in Weihsien Camp after a difficult journey by ship and train from Chefoo, where we had been interned since November 1942. I was 18, and the senior Chefoo School student.

         We arrived on lorries from the Weihsien station, and were driven through the front gate of the camp with its three Chinese characters, meaning "Courtyard of the Happy Way ". This was the name given to what had been a large American Presbyterian mission station, but it was not a particularly apt slogan as a Japanese camp for 2,000 inmates.

         We were lined up the camp church while the Japanese Commandant read out the regulations, warning us that any non-compliance would be severely dealt with.

         Then we were surrounded by dozens of the local internees who had already been here for five months. They were tanned, thin and barefoot, looking like creatures from another world. We realised that it would not be long before we would have a similar appearance. They spoke with British, American and Continental accents.

         Within a few days of arriving a fellow Chefoo boy pointed to a man standing nearby in a group of people, and said, "That's Eric Liddell, the man who refused to run on a Sunday at the Olympics". The man in question was bald and tanned, had a friendly smile, and wearing khaki shorts and was barefoot. We had been brought up on this story of his stand on Sunday sport, which coincided with our own strict Sabbatarian upbringing.

         Liddell seemed to be ubiquitous - he was all over the camp, holding friendly conversations with all kinds of people. The camp Labour Committee had designated him to divide his time between teaching and organising youth sports. Soon he was organising races between the Tianjin and Chefoo youth. He also organised hockey matches, and was known to have repaired the hockey sticks by tearing up his own bed sheets. Some former Weihsieners have stated that, in order to keep the camp youth out of trouble, Liddell organised sports on Sundays, in spite of his earlier stand on the subject the Olympics. I have no recollection of this, and so cannot confirm or deny this statement.

         Eric Liddell gave Science classes to the school groups in the camp, although he had no equipment or blackboard. Among those whom he taught were the Chefoo scholars, who sat on beds in their dormitories, and took notes in pencil on paper which was used again and again by rubbing out earlier notes. Some of these students made notable achievements in science after the war, and looked back to the sound foundations which Liddell had given them.

         Separated from his own girls, whom he keenly missed, Eric Liddell took a fatherly interest in the Chefoo boys and girls, some of whom had not seen their parents in inland China for many years, owing partly to the hazards of travel during the Japanese war. Many remember him for his personal conversations about their families and their separations.

         My first personal contact with Liddell was a Sunday School teacher with him in the small camp Sunday School . Every Sunday afternoon about a hundred children came to the Sunday School. Teaching material was almost non-existent. I remember attending a teachers' meeting which took place around his bed in a bachelor dormitory in Block 23. We were sharing our thoughts on the life of Joseph, which we were then covering in our classes. Later on in camp life I remember attending some week night meetings in the church at which Liddell was the speaker. One series was on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 - 7) and another on St. Paul 's Hymn of Love in I Corinthians 13. The talks made a deep impression on me, as the preacher seemed to be an embodiment of what he was teaching. The addresses were simple, direct and supported by homely illustrations.

         A Salvation Army officer, Fred Buist, kindly taught me how to play the trombone, and I became a 2nd trombonist in the Salvation Army Band, which in Weihsien had become an "ecumenical" group. Every Sunday afternoon we played hymns and marches at various points in the camp under the baton of Brigadier Stranks.

         It was in February, 1945, (which was to be five months before the end of the war) that we were playing outside the camp hospital. The nurse on duty passed a note out of the window "Eric Liddell would like you to play Finlandia". We gladly obliged, and played it thinking of the words:

 

Be still, my soul. The Lord is on thy side;

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul - thy best, thy heavenly Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

 

         During the week which followed - 21st February, 1945 - Eric Liddell died.

The sad news spread rapidly through the camp. The camp church was crowded for the funeral, for he had been everyone's friend. I helped to carry the coffin up Rocky Road to a spot normally out of bounds, close to the Japanese officers' quarters, where internees were buried. As the coffin was lowered into the ground and the final prayers had been said, I went away feeling that I had lost a faithful friend.

         Soon after Liddell's death I was asked to leave my small room at the top of the hospital and move to the corner of the bachelor dormitory which he had occupied. My bed consisted of wooden boxes with a mattress on them. In the beds next to me were some of Eric's close friends - Josh McChesney Clark, Eugene Huebener and Marcy Ditmanson.

         Moving into Liddell's former position in this room also brought with taking over his position as Rollcall Warden for Blocks 23 and 24. Rollcall took place twice a day, and the procedure was as follows. I would stand outside the Guard Room near the entrance of the camp, and would be given the signal to ring the bell for the entire camp to go to their rollcall groups, of which there were five. I then walked to Block 23 and 24, where the internees were waiting in two long lines in front of each building. When the Japanese guard arrived the internees numbered off in Japanese, and then I gave the guard statistics as to how many in the group were on shift work or in hospital.

         I then walked back to the Guard Room, and watched the guards chalking up on a blackboard the numbers from each group. As soon as they were satisfied that the figures were correct they signalled to me, and I rang the bell again, and could then break up. When I took over this task from Eric Liddell it was evident that he had won the confidence and respect of the Japanese guards.

         Humanly speaking, it was tragic that Eric Liddell died five months before the end of internment. How he would have loved to have joined in the excitement of our liberation in August by American airmen, and to have reunited with the family whom he dearly loved. But God called him home.

 

Norman Cliff.

 

 

 

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